Off the map

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 31, 2013

Give me a ship and a star to guide her, and I’ll sell them both on eBay. But thanks for the thought.

It’s not that I lack a sense of adventure, although there are questions about my sense of direction.

It’s just that the time has passed when I was anxious to cast off the shackles of suburbia and head out into the great unknown, where dragons be and where possibly, God forbid, there’s no Internet access.

I’ve moved on into an adventure-less life for the most part, at least the kind of adventure that requires star guidance.

I guess I should note that I spent last weekend camping, although this is being written before the fact. Barring bears or losing my flashlight, let’s all assume I survived.

What I miss in terms of exploration, though, I make up for with maps.

I’m a map lover from way back. It has sometimes been my favorite form of entertainment, hauling down the globe and spinning it, looking on this sphere for corners, forgotten or ignored spots on Earth where I imagine vistas, amazing flora and non-bear fauna that few have seen.

And I’m fortunate to live in what seems to be a golden age of maps, detailed, accurate, and easily available to a near-sighted 55-year-old who has a keyboard and a mouse.

Google Earth alone has given me hours of vicarious travel to all sorts of places, all on a computer monitor. And thanks to its designers and strange-looking Google-mobiles that roam all over, it’s possible to live the old joke: I can see my house from up here.

I can see many houses, actually, including ones I used to live in. This is also sort of a pleasure, wandering back in time, trying to match up trees and fences with what I remember from long time ago. Some of you have done this.

Things change, of course. Communities go downhill, get shoddy and look a little sketchy. Schools are closed and bulldozed and become offices. Whole neighborhoods are dismissed, turned into on-ramps for one more freeway.

Parks aren’t as green, buildings aren’t as big, and roads are wider or narrower or sometimes just gone. This is life, and we have the maps to prove it.

But I went looking for a road the other day, and I was a little surprised to find it, right where it used to be, looking just about the same from a satellite’s eye perspective.

This was Schnebly Hill Road in northern Arizona, a mostly-unpaved route that runs from I-17 just south of Flagstaff all the way to Sedona.

Having lived in that part of the country when I was in college, I got to know Schnebly Hill Road pretty well.

My girlfriend and I discovered it one day (it wasn’t much of a discovery; there were signs and everything) as we were out for a drive, just enjoying a day off. We bumped along slowly, watching out for rocks, and finally pulled off to the side and got out.

Turning around, then, we could see the famous red rocks of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, a tourist draw then and now.

There are plenty of places that will take your breath away with the pure beauty of the sight, but this backdrop of color and landscape felt personal, and ours. As if we were the first to see it, although of course we weren’t.

In fact, unknown to us at the time, a film crew had wandered down Schnebly the summer before, finding that exact spot and deciding it was a good place to film a scene. This was “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (the first one, the trip to Walley World), and sometimes I’ll watch parts of it again, just to see my spot.

If you’re curious, it’s the place where they discover that Aunt Edna has died in the backseat. The car screeches to a halt and the entire Griswold family (minus Edna, of course) exit pretty quickly.

It’s a short scene and you don’t really get the entire picture, but it’s nice to watch and remember.

Not because I like the film all that much. Just because that was the spot where, 30 years ago, I got married.

I took 700 words to tell you that because I don’t know what to say. How the details of my marriage, or yours for that matter, would make any difference to anyone else’s life is unknown to me.

I have affection for the institution and I wish you well, but I have no lessons learned to share. It’s been personal, if not (given my tendencies) particularly private.

But 30 years is over half my life, and the whole of my life is irrevocably tangled up with that woman who stood with me on Schnebly Hill Road so long ago, and it felt worth mentioning.

The best and happiest times I’ve ever had I would lay at her feet, with gratitude. And the not-so-good times?

We experienced them together, just as we expected we would. How we did this, I haven’t a clue, but we did. In sickness and in health, for a little richer and a lot poorer.

Maybe we just got lucky.

Or maybe we just stopped at the right place on the side of the road, looked in the distance, and saw something beautiful, and maybe it was something we wanted, and it was.

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